Black Academia 1.2

For the last couple of years I’ve written a bit of commentary on the Equalities Challenge Unit’s statistical reports on higher education, paying especial attention to what they say about the state of Black Academia in the UK. So here are some comments on the latest report, incorporating data from the 2013/14 academic year. I’m not a quants or stats person so do let me know if you think I have figures wrong.

Please note that, if I don’t mention it otherwise, I am mainly talking about UK-national students and academics rather than non-UK-national (i.e. international). This is because, while international students and academics can most certainly be affected by racialized structures of discrimination and exclusion, I am  fundamentally interested in the sources of these structures and the way in which they interact with other such structures in the UK life-cycle. Additionally, I do not talk about those who have defined as “mixed race”, which to my mind is not necessarily a useful category for doing the following kind of analyses.

First, a few comments on the status of Black academics.

The percentage of UK-national staff on academic contracts  who are Black is now back to 1.19% – the same as when I wrote the first of my reports in 2014. Not only is this proportion far less than the proportion of Black people in the UK population (3.3%); it is also far, far less than the proportion of UK-national students who are Black – 6.4%. In contrast, 91.7% of UK-national staff on academic contracts are white, and thus not only overrepresented in academia as a percentage of the broader UK demographic (at 86%)  but also visavis the 79.6% of the student population who are white.

There are now 70 UK-national Black professors and 30 non-UK-national Black professors, giving a total of 100 Black professors, or 0.55% of all professors working in UK academia. As a comparison, there are 16,465 white professors (UK and non-UK national), and they comprise 91.1% of all professors in UK academia. Nonetheless, this figure is an improvement. But I want to draw attention again to the importance of the UK-national distinction: it is easier to “buy in” diversity from abroad; not so easy to cultivate “equality” at home. What we really want to see is an increase in UK-national Black professors, although, of course, a general increase is also to be encouraged and welcomed.

There are now 5 UK-national and 5 non-UK national Black academics who have senior managerial roles. A slight improvement from last year, yet still, only 0.67% of all senior mananger academics are Black. Compare, again, with white academic senior managers – 1400 of them – who comprise around 94% of all senior management academics. As much as academics still hold institutional power in the Higher Education (HE) sector, these are some of the ones who do so. And they are overwhelmingly white.

Meanwhile, out of all ethnicities, Black academics are by far the least likely to earn over 57,032GBP – only 8.9% of UK-national Black academics do, compared to 20.7% of Asian academics and 19.7% of white academics. This, again, demonstrates a significant lack of Black academics at the higher reaches of UK academia.  

At the start of the career ladder, Black Postgraduate Research students are most likely, amongst all ethnicities, to be part time. 48.4% of Black PG students are part time, compared to 36.5% of Asian PG students and 36.4% of white PG students. Moreover, out of all ethnicities Black PG students evidence the biggest decline in full time numbers after the 1st year of study –  a 10% decline compared to an 8% decline in white students and a 7.6% decline in Asian students. It is well known that, all other things being equal, part time PG research students are at a disadvantage to full time PG students in terms of introduction and access to research networks and other career-forming opportunities. 

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Delegates at the First Black Writers And Artists Congress, 1956, Sorbonne University, Paris

Now what about students? In what follows I discuss solely the UK-national demographics.

The percentage of Black students vis-à-vis the whole UK student population remains high at 6.4%. In England, the figure rises to 7.5% and in London, further still to 16.7%. Bear in mind that Black people constitute just 3.3% of the UK population as a whole (and 13.3% of the London population).

The concentration of Black students in London is notable. Working in a London institution I have some thoughts on the implications of this. Anecdotally it seems to me that many London-based Black students live at home and continue to heavily rely upon their existing social and friendship networks. If they attend an institution that is somewhat alienating to them – i.e. institutionally and visually white – their response is often to fall back on those existing networks. This might mitigate against the building by Black students of meaningful associational and professional (not necessarily friendship) networks within university. This could be a hidden, unintentional but long-term detrimental effect of the notable concentration of Black students in London, although it might be experienced differently across different institutions. I also wonder if the same issue applies in Birmingham.

Also of note is the slow but inexorable increase of continental-heritage students as a percentage of Black students and the relative decline of Caribbean-heritage students. This reflects the changing composition of the UK Black population. It is also interesting to note that continental-heritage Black students (or “Black African” in the stats) is the LARGEST defined BME group 22.6% of the total BME student population; the second largest is Asian-Indian at 16.7%. These points are important because, as we’ll see, continental-heritage Black students are, in the main, not doing as well as their Caribbean-heritage peers, and indeed usually do worse amongst all groups in most indicators.

The highest concentration of Black students by subject field are in: Subjects Allied to Medicine (19.3% of all Black students), Business and Administration Studies (16.7%), Social Studies (14.3%) and Biological Sciences (9.2%). I thought I would try and calculate some student ratios  of UK-national Black students to UK-national Black staff.

There are 10740 Black students in Biological Sciences; and there are 65 Black academics in Bioscience. (I’m not sure if the Biological sciences include other subjects so please let me know if I have this wrong). This gives a ratio of 1 Black academic to 165 Black students. The comparative ratio for white students in this area is 1:20.  There are 19455 Black students in Business and Administration; and there are 210 Black academics in Business and Management Studies. This gives a ratio of 1:92. The comparative ratio for white students and academics in this area is 1:18.

You get the picture. Black students – even in the subjects that they tend to take most – will find far fewer Black academics than white students will find white academics. I don’t mean to infer by this that Black students are better taught (or even want to be taught) by Black academics. I am simply pointing to the fact that even amongst subjects most popular with Black students there is still a relative dearth of Black academics. In short, there are no “black” subjects and no “black” parts of the university.

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NUS Wales Black Students conference

Let’s now look at the figures that tell us what happens to students at the end of each academic year (except the final year).  I am especially interested in transfers (which usually indicates that the student has some kind of problem with their institution), and “no longer in HE” (the student has left university before gaining a degree).

1.6% of white students transfer at the end of the year compared to 3.7% of Asian students and 4% of Black students.  Black students tend to transfer more than any other white or BME group. And this suggests that Black students are relatively less settled and secure in their institution than any other ethnicity. 6.5% of white students leave higher education without finishing their studies, compared to 6.8% of Asian students and 11.1% of Black students. Look at that figure: far more Black students fail to gain a degree at university than any other ethnicity including white. It’s also important to note that slightly more continental-heritage students transfer than Caribbean-heritage students, and that more Caribbean-heritage students leave before gaining their degree than continental-heritage students.

It seems that the most recent statistics on GCSE results for continental-heritage Black students shows a slight reversal of their recent success story. The last time that I looked these students were performing just above the national average for attaining 5 or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths. Apparently these students are now 1.3% below the national average (which has also increased). Nonetheless, continental-heritage students are now performing at 0.4% above the national average in terms of achieving an EBacc. The English Baccalaureate is the new “gold standard” recently put in place by government to ensure students going through to college and higher education have undertaken “core” subjects.  It remains, then, unfair to automatically ascribe an academic “deficit” to continental-heritage students as they enter university (and also to Caribbean-heritage students, but that is another story).

It is crucial to note that the long-term increase in attainment at secondary school by continental-heritage students has yet to be reflected in a proportional improvement in university attainment. A number of years separate GCSE results from Undergraduate attainment, and what we should be seeing now, I would say, is the dividend from the drastic improvement in secondary school results for continent-heritage Black students over the last 6 years at least.  But we are not. In fact, these students are attaining the same – if not slightly worse – than their Caribbean-heritage peers, who still suffer from various discriminations at secondary school resulting in attainments that are a good 10% less than their continental-heritage peers.

22.4% of white students attained a first class degree compared to 14.7% of Asian students and only 8.7% of Black students. Alternatively, only 3.7% of white students attained a Third Class/Pass mark compared to 7% of Asian students and 11.7% of Black students.  Again, Black students suffer the worst attainment amongst all ethnic groups – and by a significant margin. (Black students do marginally better in Scottish institutions, it must be noted. Additionally, Black students get marginally more first class awards in SET subjects than non-SET subjects).

Let’s put this in context. It is well known that the major graduate employers will cut through CVs by excluding all applicants who have a 2:2 (second class lower honours) award or less (ie a Third/Pass). So to have a chance at landing a good graduate job you really need to have a 2:1 (second class upper honours) or a 1st (first class honours) degree. And even that result is increasingly a basic requirement nowadays.  77.3% of white females attain either a 1st or 2:1 compared to 46.3% of Black males. That is the widest differential of attainment when it comes to the intersection of gender and race. It is a difference of over 30%. Think of the challenge that this difference presents to inter-generational social mobility along race lines. Yes, it’s true that the attainment of white and BME groups has experienced a secular rise over the last 10 years. But the differential between groups has remained fairly constant.

What is more, slightly more Caribbean-heritage Black students attain 1sts (9.5%) than their continental-heritage peers (8.5%). And again, more Caribbean-heritage students attain 2:1s (43.2%) than their continental-heritage peers (40.1%). Conversely, more continental-heritage students attain 2:2s (39.8%) and 3rds/pass (11.6%) than their Caribbean-heritage peers (36.2% and 11% respectively).  In other words, despite massively outperforming their Black Caribbean-heritage peers at secondary school, Black continental-heritage students have worse attainments than them at the end of university life! And out of all ethnicities, Black continental-heritage students have the worst attainments – by a notable margin.

I’ve said this before and I want to keep saying it: something is seriously wrong if a relative success story at secondary school is being reversed through higher education. When it comes to continental-heritage Black students specifically, university seems to be complicit in reversing their social-mobility, or at the very least dampening or slowing down this mobility.  And remember, this is the largest defined group of BME students in university.

So let’s look at employability after university.  

61.5% of white students find full-time work six months after graduating, and 49.7% of them find professional full-time work.  53% of black students find full-time work and 41.3% find professional full-time work.  4.6% of white students and 9.7% of Black students are unemployed 6 months after graduating. So there is a 10% difference between Black and white graduates finding professional work and a 5% difference in terms of unemployment, both to the detriment of Black graduates. Approximately the same percentages of white and Black graduates enter into postgraduate study. It is also important to note that continental-heritage Black graduates are less likely than Caribbean-heritage Black students to gain professional and general full time-work, and more likely than their Caribbean-heritage peers to be unemployed.

Certainly we can see here an effect of the attainment differential. But I also want to suggest, at least on first glance, that even with the inequitable attainment differential Black graduates are doing really, really well to shrink the difference when it comes to securing general and professional employment. What positive resources are our graduates drawing on in this respect? I would like to know more.

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Blackness in Britain Conference, 2015

Finally, I want to look at the institutions through which Black students graduate. This is important because there is a de-facto hierarchy of higher education institutions in the UK despite the nominally “public” nature of the vast majority. We should be careful to conclude that more “prestigious” institutions are actually better at delivering higher education. Rather, I would want us to parse “prestige” through Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of “cultural capital”. Higher education has, for a long time, (decreasingly so nowadays) professed a meritocratic aim to set adults up for their future on the basis of their work and talents rather than their family name and connections. Yet it is still the case that the existing “cultural capital” that comes with inherited privileges by and large reproduces itself through the differential of “prestigious” and “less prestigious” institutions. That is why the more prestigious institutions tend to gift more employability to their students than less-prestigious institutions.

The Russell Group are the most prestigious higher education providers in the UK. 82.3% of their student population is white, 8.6% Asian and just 2.8% Black. Consider that the general demographic of Black peoples in the UK is 3.3%. Consider that Black students compose 6.4% of the student population. And compare this with the percentage of Black students who compose the less “presitigous” Million+ group student population: 14.7%. Let me parse this another way. 22% of white students go to Russell Group institutions; 22% of Asian students go to Russell Group institutions; only 9.6% of Black students go to Russell Group institutions. Now you can see how woefully under-represented Black students are in the most “prestigious” institutions. It’s difficult to find another similarly stark differential in terms of percentages of students across the various groupings of institutions than the Russell Group statistic for Black students. Seriously.

Nonetheless, whilst there is still concern over bias in admissions from Russell Group universities, a recent parsing of UCAS datarecent parsing of UCAS data suggests that differences between offer-rates to Black students and general offer-rates do not map neatly onto e.g. Russell Group universities. It is certainly a diverse set of institutions who suffer from this differential.

Does geography have something to do with this? I suspect that relatively more Black students study and live at home than white students. And Black students are far more likely to apply and be admitted into institutions located in cities and BME population centres – London, Birmingham etc. We also know that Black students tend to have a much older (“mature students”) demographic and to be more female than any other ethnicity. So thinking intersectionally, it might be the case that Black students tend to be less mobile than other ethnicities, with perhaps more social and familial responsibilities that require them to use the social networks that they already have.

I wonder then: which Russell Group universities have seriously undertaken outreach to potential Black students? Not to “disadvantaged communities” per se – I know a number are doing that. But let’s not conflate prospective Black students with “disadvantaged communities”; and also let’s not assume that the outreach to Black students is going to be the same as outreach to (usually white) disadvantaged students. I would be really interested to find out which Russell Group universities are expressly seeking to attract Black students by putting actual resources into targeted outreach.

Well, in conclusion I wish I could say many more positive things about the stats. But it’s hard to do so. What’s clear to me is that “inclusion” is not enough. In fact, in some ways,  inclusion is the wrong emphasis. There are plenty of Black students in the university system! The far more pressing and challenging issue is to change institutional and sectoral cultures and practices that lead to such outrageously skewed differentials regarding the placement, experience, retention, attainment and success of Black students. The difficulties in effecting such change is compounded by the refusal by many (and overwhelmingly well-meaning) academics to believe that their practices and non-practices have anything to do with the problem.

But I do want to end by listing some positives:

These positives suggest that Black is not a deficit colour. Rather, it is institutionalised whiteness that generates deficiencies.

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One Response to Black Academia 1.2

  1. Dave Thomas says:

    I have read this post twice now. It resonates with me on many levels. I believe this is a “must read”. I would like to see this is a journal of some sort.

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